Project: exposure therapy for my fear of posting sloppy/confusing stuff to this blog continues. So uh... sorry. I hope to return to regularly posting polished content soon.]
One of the least popular aspects of my philosophy of mathematics is what I call Moderate Quantifier Variance. So I thought I'd explain one reason why I'm such a big fan of this view (and why I think you should be too) which has nothing to do with philosophy of mathematics.
The Access Problem for Holes
Consider our knowledge of holes. As discussed in D and S Lewis' On Holes, it's appealing take holes to be distinct from things like the air inside them, portions of the matter that `hosts' (e.g. portions of cheese with some diameter aronud a hole in Swiss cheese).
We seem to know how deeply a piece of cheese must be indented in order for there to count as being a hole in that piece of cheese. But (to a crazy philosopher, for a second) this knowledge can seem rather mysterious. For our senses tell us how the cheese is distributed through space. But how do we know where to draw the line: re how shallow a hole can be? No sensory experience seems to point out a single metaphysically special place to draw the line. So how can one explain the match between human beliefs about how shallow a hole can be and objective matters of facts?
It's appealing to say: there's no mystery about human accuracy here because if we had used `hole' differently (by taking the minimum hole angle to be larger or smaller) then the meanings of our words would have been different so these alternative hole-identifying practices would have yeilded true utterances. But since variant practices of "hole" individuation can require change in sentences whcih don't even use the word hole (e.g. a purely logical sentence like the Fregean paraphrase for `there are >3000 things' can go from true to false). So it seems plausible that allowing such changes in meaning requires allowing variant meanings for logical vocabulary like ``there is'' as well as in the meaning of ``hole''.
So I think a great way to solve this `access problem for holes'' is to accept
Moderate Quantifier Variance: there are multiple existential quantifier like meanings which the words `there is' can take on in different ideolects, (say English_1910, English_2010 etc.), though within any particular ideolect `there is' is univocal.
- These meanings are `quantifier like' in the sense that they obey the all instances of standard first order logical inferential rules/axioms for `exists' (within the language they belong to).
- If there is a single maximally natural quantifier sense (as e.g. Sider thinks there is corresponding to our talk about `what there is' takes on when doing ontology), these variant quantifier senses need not be mere quantifier restrictions of this fundamental sense.
But whatever you say about math, I think moderate quantifier variance is already useful for understanding our knowledge of swiss cheese!